Unforgotten is the sequel to Kristen Heitzmann’s Secrets. In Secrets, Rese Barrett has purchased and is renovating an old Italian villa in Sonoma, California, and plans to open a bed and breakfast there. Vagabond Lance Michelli insinuates his way into her life, talking her into hiring him as cook and maid. In truth, Lance has come to the villa on a mission from his Nonna Antonia, looking for a family secret. Rese has secrets in her own family that are revealed as the story progresses. Electricity and attraction pull Lance and Rese together, but distrust and deception pull them apart. By the end of the book, they reach a fragile agreement to partner—strictly in a business sense—in running the inn.
Unforgotten continues the story. Lance believes he has uncovered his family’s dark past. He found Antonia’s diary, a deed that gives Antonia claim to Rese’s villa, a stash of Prohibition-bottled wine and tentative evidence of involvement with organized crime. Antonia has one more secret for him to unlock, however. She has a key, and it goes to a safe deposit box where her husband Lance’s Nonno Marco left something for her there the day he died. Antonia has never retrieved it because she fears that whatever is in the box will bring shame to the family and prove that her father and her husband worked for the Italian Mafia during Prohibition. The box contains a letter
beginning with Marco’s confession that his life with Antonia was based on intrigue and deception. It breaks Antonia’s heart and she can bear to hear only a paragraph or two at a time. The words pull memories from her and steal her strength and spirit, leaving her weak and near death.
As Lance searches the past with Antonia, an undercurrent of evil arises and begins to grow stronger. Powers and principalities are at work trying to destroy Lance and everything he cares about. When he and Antonia reach the end of Marco’s letter, Lance is left with one word: vendetta. The blood curse. Nonno Marco’s blood cries out for revenge. The vendetta falls across Lance’s shoulders like the cross he has tattooed there. He either carries the curse or sacrifices himself to break it and free his family forever. Lance fasts, prays, wrestles with God, and finally makes the sacrifice that will satisfy the vendetta. Part of what he sacrifices is Rese. He sends her home, knowing that he may lose the woman he loves forever.
Like Secrets, Unforgotten is masterfully written. Each character is developed such that the story must follow from who these people are. Lance is a Christ-type who sacrifices himself to break the blood curse on his family. When it’s over he is, in Nonna’s words, used up by God. In the aftermath, while Lance is lost, confused and purposeless, God releases a powerful gift through him.
Life and death, good and evil twist through Unforgotten like the Sonoma grape vines
growing outside the inn. The wine of the grapes represents the blood of Christ, and blood is a major symbol in the book. Rese’s father dies as blood pours out of his body, and a baby is born with a flow of blood. Vendetta must be satisfied because blood has been spilled by evil men, and a good man must sacrifice himself for it. Lance’s sacrifice is an echo of Christ’s, whose blood satisfied for all time the ultimate vendetta against us all.
In the end, Lance, with Nonna Antonia, returns to Rese and the inn. He is emaciated, lost and, in Antonia’s words, “used up by God.” He is a pale shadow of the man Rese knew, a man full of life and power. Rese has closed the inn and gone into business with her father’s friend, renovating houses.
The villa is now a place for lost souls—Rese, her mother, her crazy friend Star, and now Lance and Antonia. Then an abused, pregnant Hispanic girl named Maria is brought to the villa, and they give her refuge and care. The birth of her baby is the catalyst that miraculously brings Rese and Lance together again. They reach out to each other and touch, leaving the reader with a promise of love and faith fulfilled. The ends are tied up and the story is finished. Or is it?